Believe it or not, there are other microblogging services in the world besides Twitter. And now one of them, China’s highly-popular Sina Weibo, is preparing to make itself known in the English-speaking world.
According to The Next Web (via Chinese-language site TechWeb), Sina Weibo (pronounced ‘way-bore’) is “actively preparing” to release an English version of its platform in the United States that will directly compete with Twitter. The service could be ready in as little as two to three months, say sources familiar with the matter.
So, just how much of a threat is Sina Weibo to Twitter? It’s difficult to say at this point, but the numbers don’t look so great from Twitter’s standpoint. Sina Weibo, a kind of Twitter-Facebook hybrid, currently has about 140 million users, and the company expects to reach 200 million by the end of this year. Compare that to Twitter, which only has about 300 million users worldwide, approximately 20 million of which live in the United States.
Those numbers are difficult to compare directly, however, as China has a population of 1.4 billion, and the United States only about 307 million. Also, the popularity of Sina Weibo in China doesn’t mean the service can breakthrough in the US. It probably does mean that Twitter wouldn’t stand a chance in China. But the same may be true for Sina Weibo here in The States.
Unfortunately for Twitter, its penetration in the US market is still relatively low — only about 13 percent of American adults use Twitter, according to a recent Pew study. But that’s a marketed improvement over 2010, at which time only 8 percent had a Twitter account.
Sina Weibo’s US debut would represent the first major Chinese social network to launch in the United States. But considering the Chinese government’s stranglehold on free speech in-country, which highly restricts what users can and cannot say on Sina Weibo, it will be interesting to see if the American version takes a different approach to censorship. If not, don’t expect much of a fight.